The first leg of our long trek to Roskilde was an overnight cruise to Denmark. Conveniently, Peder lives just a short distance from the harbor – so after a quick (and somewhat drizzly) descent towards Oslo Fjord, we were promptly on our way.
…Well, almost promptly. When we reached the boat with our bicycles, a man at the gate said we’d need to pay extra to bring them onboard – but as the drizzle grew to a heavy rain and he fumbled helplessly with the ticketing computer, eventually he just waived us by for free. Sweet! 🙂
So, remember how I said last time that I was doubting the sanity of what I was getting myself into? I can’t even tell you how sore I felt after just ten minutes of riding with all that heavy luggage. I mean seriously…that stuff was heavy! I’ve done a fair number of cross-country bikerides in my day; around Japan’s biggest lake and from Kyoto to Tokushima to name just two; but the backpack adds a whole new variable to the equation. It really was going to be a physical challenge beyond anything I’ve ever attempted. I’d just better make it…
My first reaction upon boarding the ship to Denmark was one of surprise. Considering the incredibly low ticket price, I couldn’t believe how luxurious it was – a proper cruise ship by anyone’s definition, complete with a fitness center, restaurants, bars, arcades, and sun decks. We had our own private cabin for less than a meal would’ve cost in your average Oslo restaurant. How could that be, you ask?
Two words: Duty Free.
As it turns out, the reason why boats from Norway to Denmark even exist is for duty free shopping. Oslo locals will book a round trip just for the opportunity to pick up some necessary items (like tobacco and alcohol) in a quick haven from Norway’s stiflingly high taxes. Most don’t even get off in Denmark; they simply stay aboard and return home the following morning. That’s why the relatively short distance takes an entire evening to complete: the boat goes slowly on purpose, because in order to qualify for duty-free purchases you have to spend a full night outside the country.
And trust me when I say that the duty free shop onboard is like a supermarket, occupying half an entire deck. Clearly the arrangement works. Yet I must admit, to me, the prices still seemed pretty ludicrous – not necessarily higher than I’d have expected for Scandinavia in general, but shocking when put in the context that people ride these boats solely for the opportunity to pay these prices. I mean, $3.50 for a 16oz Coke and $4 for a bag of Cheetos? Is that really a savings? Or bottles of vodka that cost $9.95 in Los Angeles…selling like hotcakes for $40? Pretty crazy if you ask me.
Yes indeed, Scandinavia ain’t a cheap part of the world by any stretch.
But to us, it didn’t matter much. Because we weren’t here for the Duty Free. We were here for a quick ride to Denmark…and…to party!
While the main motivation – and source of profit – for the boats is shopping, if there’s one other thing that draws in the customers it’s the nightlife. On weekends, all 700+ rooms will sell out, the disco overflowing right until they dock in Denmark. It’s known as so much fun that young Osloites (?) will often buy a round-trip ticket just to stay out all night, sleeping the whole way home and waking up back at their own front door. From some of the stories Peder’s told me, it sounded like we had a truly fantastic night ahead of us.
Nope. Not this time. By a total stroke of (un-)luck, the theme of this particular cruise was “family day” – and the disco was quieter than Peder had ever seen it. Even the few people we did manage to meet were eager to express their shock and disappointment, lamenting that after (in some cases) more than a dozen Friday nights on the boat this was far and away the deadest they’d seen.